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It is helpful to break this down into two different things:
Many people use these terms interchangeably. We say “I found it on the internet,” or “I’m surfing the web,” and we don’t really think there’s a difference.
That is fine for everyday conversations, but if you want to know how the online world works, it is helpful to distinguish between these two things.
The internet is a network of networks (of networks). It is made up of millions of (or billions) of individual computers, all connected to each other.
It’s called a “network of network” because that’s what it is:
- If you have several computers at your home or office all connected to the same internet connection, you have a network there
- All the home and office networks are connected together into a network run by your internet service provider
- Those are linked together, along with networks at data centers and server farms, to form regional networks
- Eventually, all these different networks connect to each other in one way or another, forming one giant network that spans the world
The internet is the collective of connected computers, and it allows for other things besides the web. There are several technologies that use the internet, but aren’t connected to the web:
- Email (you can use the web to check your email, but the underlying email system doesn’t use the web)
- Peer-to-peer file sharing
- IRC chat
The origins of the internet go back to the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the invention of the web that commercial entities started using it.
Once you have a bunch of computers connected to each other, what do you do with them?
Tim Berners-Lee answered that question in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He proposed a “mesh” of interconnected documents.
People were already using the internet to share files — but you had to know where a document was in order to find it. Or, if you knew of a particular server on the network that often has good files, you can look at their files and see if you want to download any of them.
Berners-Lee’s innovation (which was based on many similar concepts being explored at the time) was for documents to be linked to each other. Every time you click on a link in the text of a web page, you are benefiting from this advance.
Thanks to linking, owners of servers (and files) could easily make Tables of Contents (Index) and Home Pages, leading to collections of documents that came to be called “sites.” Document owners could also link to documents on other sites as well, making it easier for people to find new content.
What makes up the internet?
Computers, connected to each other.
- Home and personal computers
- Your mobile device or tablet
What makes up the web?
Documents, connected to each other.